Child abuse groups condemned a ‘lenient’ judge today after the parents and grandmother of a toddler who drowned in a garden pond escaped jail – despite admitting neglect.
Tragic Daniel Rees-Smith, aged two, was discovered face down a pond at the home of his alcoholic grandmother Hilary Rees in June last year.
But Rees, 44, who was babysitting little Daniel, had slipped into a drunken stupor – found to be three-times the drink drive limit – on the sofa after guzzling cider and anti-depressants.
Daniel’s parents, Charlotte Rees-Smith, 20, and Andrew Marshall, 22, returned from an evening drinking at a nearby pub to find Daniel dead in the pond.
The house was in a squalid condition with animal faeces, both cat and dog excrement on the floors, was full of flies and littered with rubbish and items of clothing, dirty plates etc.
Bristol Crown Court heard Hilary Rees told police: ”It’s my fault – I have killed my grandson. I was meant to be looking after him”.
All three admitted charges of neglect after a court heard that Daniel was left alone with his boozed-up grandmother in her squalid home in Hanham, Bristol, up to four times a week.
She was found to regularly fall unconscious on the sofa – leaving Daniel to wander alone – and admitted growing cannabis plants in the loft of her foul smelling house.
The defendants were handed suspended jail terms after His Honour Judge Maddison told them that losing little Daniel had already given them a ”heavy burden” to carry.
Manslaughter charges against the trio were also dropped.
But the lenient sentences were slammed by child abuse groups, who claimed judges were not taking the issue seriously enough.
Peter Saunders, founder of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) said: ”This is another example of an horrendous human tragedy.
”Once again a child has died basically at the neglect of his parents and another carer, in this case the grandmother, and they have walked free.
”This indicates that the judicial system does not take child abuse and neglect seriously enough.
”If a person is convicted for defrauding money they can go to prison for seven or eight years but if a child dies then people go free.
”We make excuses for these people, and if they are an alcoholic then it is a tragedy, but it is too late for these children.
”This wasn’t a momentary lapse of concentration – it was systematic abuse.”
Rupert Lowe, prosecuting, described the house as littered with cat and dog faeces, foul smelling and infested with flies.
He said: ”Hilary Rees has had serious alcohol concerns for many years. She was often found unconscious and it was difficult to raise her.
”When she was woken she often became aggressive and confrontational.
”The whole place was foul-smelling and infested with flies. The garden gate did not lock and, most importantly of all, the pond was unfenced.”
On the evening of June 4, last year the three defendants had gone to the Cross Keys pub near Ms Rees’s Hanham home, before she returned with Daniel to look after him.
She had drunk at least three pints of cider, mixed with anti-depressants, and had fallen asleep on the sofa.
Rees-Smith and Marshall returned at 10.30pm to find Daniel lying dead, face down in the garden pond.
Rees and Rees-Smith admitted child neglect between April 2009 and June 4 2010 and was handed a 12-month jail term suspended for two years and a two year supervision order.
Rees-Smith was given 32 weeks in prison suspended for two years and two years supervision.
Marshall was sentenced to 18 weeks suspended for two years and two years supervision after he admitted the same offence relating to the night of his son’s death.
Judge Maddison said: ”You Hilary Rees and Charlotte Rees-Smith are to be sentenced for neglecting Daniel for a period of about 14 months.
”During that period, you Charlotte Rees-Smith, Daniel’s mum, allowed him to be looked after by your own mother – knowing that she would often be doing so in conditions of considerable squalor.
”And when she had often been incapable of looking after him properly because of the amount of alcohol she had taken.
”That is what did happen. You (Rees) fell asleep in a condition which could be described as a stupor.
”It was a wholly inadequate was of looking after a child. You two (Rees and Rees-Smith) should be deeply ashamed of your behaviour.
”I have read that you are carrying heavy burdens of guilt and will carry them for many years to come – almost certainly for the rest of your lives.”
All three refused to comment when leaving court.
Bristol City Council, in a serious case review of Daniel’s death, revealed no checks had been made by any agency to find out if any adult in sole charge of the tot was misusing alcohol.
But it defended its conduct – stating that it was difficult to conclude whether Daniel’s death was predictable.
Professor Ray Jones, chair of Bristol Safeguarding Children Board, said: ”The death of Daniel was a tragic and sad event and I would like to offer my condolences to the family.
”We accept all the recommendations in the report and one of the first steps for the Bristol board will be to revise and promote our guidance on working with families with drug or alcohol problems to ensure it is fully embedded.
”All agencies involved have agreed an action plan to ensure that the lessons learnt will inform future practice, helping to protect children in Bristol.”
It is never too late for anyone addicted to alcohol. One can always seek help from an alcohol intervention professional.